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January 7, 2013

Huskers in for toughest test yet at No. 2 Michigan

Off to an 0-2 start in conference play, Tim Miles' first run through the Big Ten as Nebraska's head coach has already started off with the expected lumps and bruises. Now, Miles and the Huskers get the pleasure of traveling up to take on No. 2 Michigan on Wednesday night.

Such is life as a member of the Big Ten, and now Nebraska will be pitted against the top team in the league standings in the 15-0 Wolverines.

"Michigan is a fantastic team," Miles said during Monday's Big Ten coaches' teleconference. "I've watched some of their game yesterday before our game, and they give you the heebie jeebies. They're amazing with their talent and their offensive flow. Coach (John) Beilein has done just and amazing job with them. I'm so impressed. You have to try and control tempo, you've got to try and give yourself a chance to score and find ways to get stops. But with Trey Burke and all that goes with it, they've got a lot of weapons."

The Wolverines come into Wednesday's game as one of the most potent offensive teams in the country, ranking seventh nationally with 82 points per game and second nationally in field goal percentage at 52.2 percent. They've also scored 94 and 95 points in their first two Big Ten games in wins over Northwestern and Iowa, respectively.

As Miles mentioned, Burke is the catalyst for everything Michigan does. The sophomore point guard is averaging 18.2 points and 7.5 assists per game, and was just named the Big Ten's Player of the Week on Monday.

But Burke is far from UM's only weapon. Forward Glenn Robinson III was also named the conference's Freshman of the Week after averaging 15 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.5 steals in Michigan's two Big Ten wins.

Junior guard Tim Hardaway Jr. is scoring 16.4 ppg and also earned player of the week honors earlier this season, while guard Nick Stauskas (13.5 ppg) and forward Mitch McGary (6.1 rebounds per game) have also been named freshmen of the week.

"First of all, their talent level is outstanding," Miles said. "They've got guys that know how to play. They're young too. But they have guys that really know how to play. They have guys who can score. Physically, they're gifted. They know how to get stops, and they're well coached. There's no doubt about it."

With such an apparent bridge in talent between Nebraska and Michigan's rosters, Miles said the Huskers' best chance at pulling off an upset in Ann Arbor, Mich., would be to try and slow the Wolverines down with stingy defense and to control the glass on both ends of the floor.

While NU was completely over-matched against Ohio State, it was within reach of Wisconsin the entire game on Sunday by following that exact game plan.

"I thought that we went out and competed," Miles said. "I thought we played a physical and scrappy game. I thought we defended. We didn't allow any easy baskets. Every time they got an offensive rebound, they made us pay. They only got less than 25 percent of their misses, but it seemed like when they did, they hurt us. I thought we did an OK job on the defensive glass for the most part, and we contested their shooters… I thought we played well enough defensively to win, but obviously we have challenges offensively."

Michigan's Beilein said Nebraska's intensity and effort on defense has stood out the most to him after watching the Huskers' first two Big Ten games. Combine that with the fact that the Wolverines will be playing their third game in six days on Wednesday, and Beilein said his team couldn't afford to look past Nebraska even if the odds might lean heavily in their favor.

"I watched their game live last night and watched their game against Ohio State this morning, and I see a team that really plays great defense," Beilein said. "Just watching them play right now, you’ve got to work to score. It looks like a team that with seven or eight players playing and basically only two or three returning players, is finding really good timing for a group that's in transition with a new coach.

"If you look at their schedule thus far, they've played a challenging schedule. They started out with two really outstanding teams in our league with Ohio State and Wisconsin, and I know they'll be a challenge for us."


Around the rim

***Miles said senior center Andre Almeida was still working to get back to 100 percent off the ankle injury he suffered against Ohio State, but said he would be surprised if Almeida wasn't back in the lineup on Wednesday.

"We're still going to try and just get him healthy and get him rehabbed so we get him some mobility back in that ankle," Miles said. "We need him at full strength. He's a guy for us that we're going to depend on, so I'll be surprised if we don't have him ready for Michigan."

***Beilein said he hasn't quite gotten the chance to get to know Miles very well just yet, but the two already share a bond with their baseball team loyalties.

“The only thing I know about Tim Miles is he's a St. Louis Cardinals fan like I am, so I know he's got to be a good guy," Beilein said.

***Beilein was asked if he had any advice for Miles and he grinds through his first season in the Big Ten. Here's what he had to say:

"I would say embrace the process," Beilein said. "I'd like to say that. I wish I had embraced it more, because those first few years are really - when you have it going the way that he had at Colorado State, and he comes in now to rebuild a program, it's very difficult. But the journey is what you want to embrace, because when you get there - when you to get to some point where you've turned the program around and you feel like you're a real contender in the Big Ten, which means you're a contender in the national picture, you've got to remember the work that you put in to get there.

"That's hard to do, because all we're doing right now and all we do every day is just grinding and trying to make each day the best we can make it."


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